What is Utopia?

As a writer, I get to imagine things all the time, but one thing for me has always been sort of amorphous. What, exactly, would Utopia be like? I can imagine a place with green fields where everyone does their fair share, but eventually I start seeing flaws in the system. For instance, I don’t like working outdoors, I tend to kill plants, and I hate bugs. Would I be expected to help grow crops the same way my brother, who has a green thumb, would? And as a librarian, I wonder, would people who don’t care about books be expected to help me take care of them? How can you be a caretaker for something you have no care for? Who’s making all these rules, anyway?

Usually, I end up deciding I’d rather just retreat onto a mountaintop or desert island with the people I love most and have supplies air dropped to me. But what kind of liberal does that make me if I can’t even picture a Utopia that works?

Today I read this wonderful opinion column by Ross Douthat in the New York Times called Watership Down and the Crisis of Liberalism and I practically clapped my hands. If you’ve never read Watership Down, the classic tale by Richard Adams, you must. Go get a copy. I’ll wait. Okay, maybe not, because it is like 500 pages long, but Watership Down was a masterpiece, and Douthat hits the nail on the head with what makes a true Utopia and how Adams created one with this sentence:

And what makes the regime the rabbits are founding good — and successful, but first and foremost good — is the integration of the different virtues, the cooperation of their different embodiments, their willing subordination to one another as circumstances require.

Bam. Right there. Each rabbit that embarks on the quest to found a new home after they lost their old home to ecoterrorism (a subdivision) has a unique skill that they offer to the group. The leader, the strong, the religiously gifted, the athletic, the intelligent, the creative—all have something to offer the group.

So that’s what Utopia is to me. It’s a world in which we all have our unique gifts and they’re all valued. Imagine a world where you could find your gift and pursue it and contribute to the world in your own way. If a teacher’s offering of education, a doctor’s offering of healing, a policeman’s offering of safety, a politician’s offering of governing, a writer’s offering of…whatever we offer—it was all valued. Every skill, from acting to playing a sport or inventing, all the way to trash collecting and housecleaning.

Isn’t that what we all want? A world we can live in without fear of someone taking what is ours? Our job, our belongings, our happiness. In a world where everyone already had theirs, maybe that wouldn’t be such a problem. To me, that is Utopia.

(Side note: The only other place I’ve ever seen a Utopia that looks like it could work is Starfleet in the Star Trek universe.)

But what is Utopia to you? In our highly divided culture today, maybe this isn’t what everyone wants. Utopian dreams come to us all, though. I’d love to hear yours.

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Utopian perfection? Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Cover Reveal: Timeless! (Finally)

Drum roll, please…Ta…DAAA!

Yes, that is the cover for the final book of my Synchronicity series, Timeless. And yes, it does have a unicorn on it! As all my best covers are, this one was designed by my talented friend Farah Evers of Farah Evers Designs, and I gave her a tough task, asking her to make a non-dorky cover with a unicorn on it. 🙂 (Sorry to all you unicorn fans out there, but…) As you can see, she rose to the challenge magnificently!

This one has been a long time coming. I started writing this trilogy in 2015, and Out of Time was published in 2016. I followed it up with Time Being in 2017. And now, finally, I’m ready to release Timeless. These worlds I invented and the portals between them have been fun to travel. Steeped in the legends of the Cherokee (T’sali) people of the Blue Ridge Mountains where I grew up, I feel like, more than any of my other books, these have a bit of my soul in them. I mean, what little girl doesn’t dream of finding out she’s a princess from a faraway land?

I’ve enjoyed my time in Eladi/Ayeli/Gadusi, consorting with Elves and Meti as well as humans, but I am ready, now, to let it go. So, on June 1, 2019, you can find out how it all ends. For those who have followed this story, the Raven Mocker does make another appearance, and yes, there really is a unicorn.

And if you haven’t followed the story? I’ve slashed the prices on the first two ebooks, Out of Time and Time Being, to 99 cents! (Come on, Disney/Marvel didn’t make you that good a deal and you still went to see End Game!) Don’t get left behind. Be ready for the end of this epic story on June 1!

Jack and Kaelyn have battled an army and realigned space and time to be together. But their greatest challenge yet looms, and it’s from Kaelyn’s own people. 

The joyous reunion with Todd and the Ayeli Meti should bring peace to all they love, but instead Kaelyn discovers a dark underbelly of prejudice. The Ayeli Meti have not forgotten the war with the Elves, and it takes very little to push them over the edge. Now Kaelyn must decide between love and duty.

Trapped on Ayeli, can she overcome the lingering anger against Elves? And can Jack defeat his father on the lost world of Gadusi, making it safe to reopen the portals? Most important, can Kaelyn and Jack find their way back to each other through the locked portals—or are they doomed to spend eternity alone?

Hidden room dream: Getting older, getting busy again, getting to know who I am

Yesterday, I had to admit—at long last—that I just can’t see my computer screen as well when I wear contacts. So I pulled out an old pair of reading glasses I once used for a Halloween costume. In spite of myself, I was hoping they wouldn’t work.

They did.

Here’s me seeing my computer screen clearly without squinting. So I’m getting older. Better than the alternative, I always say.

Today I find myself in a quandary in spite of my new ability to see clearly. I want to write again, but I’m unsure what to write. I’ve been in stasis mode for a few weeks, though, you see, so it’s harder than I anticipated jumping back into the pool of work. I usually get anxious if I’m not writing something, but I’m surprisingly calm about it this time. And I think I can attribute that to the hidden room dreams.

If you’ve never had hidden room dreams, let me tell you, they’re a trip. For me, I was always wandering through our extraordinarily cluttered house (it was worse in the dream than in reality) only to find a door I opened to reveal rooms I never knew my house possessed. These rooms were always furnished, as though ready for use, but in my dreams I always realized it would take some work to make them functional.

I had this dream often enough so I looked it up online. Hidden room dreams, I found, were an indication that there’s some talent or ability hidden in our psyche that we aren’t making use of. Interesting, considering I started having these dreams right after my first foray into community theater. If ever there was someone you wouldn’t have thought suitable for the stage, it is probably me. I have a definite fear of public speaking. I remember nearly fainting in high school when I had to give a three-minute speech. Just a few years ago, I attempted to conduct a few writing workshops, and, well, they weren’t bad, but they weren’t what I would call good, either.

But theater is different. You’re somebody else, from the makeup (I never wear eyeliner except onstage) to the clothing (ah, those sumptuous nineteenth century dresses I wore!) to the words (speeches I would never have made on my own). Okay, I’ve only had bit parts so far, but in one play I did have more than a dozen lines!

And now, here I am, having just finished directing (and writing, at least a little bit) my daughter’s talent show, taking singing lessons in preparation for auditioning for another musical—and no longer haunted by hidden room dreams. Is it possible my hidden rooms were theater-related all along? Maybe the “clutter” in my dreams was my desire to tell stories, that I’ve always restricted to the arena of writing. If I move it into theater as well, I’ll have another outlet and more room in both parts of my psyche.

But never fear, I’m not giving up on my writing, either. Jessica Entirely, the first of my middle grade Jessica mysteries, will be ready for publication in June. I’m now working on the polishing of Timeless, the final book of my Synchronicity series. And Magic at Sea, book 7 of Sleight of Hand, should be ready for an October 31 release! Plus, I’ve already started planning Jessica Naturally, which I’m hoping to have out by Christmas.

So even as I explore these hidden rooms and try to dust them off so they’ll be functional, I’m adding to the clutter on the other side of my psyche. Can’t be helped, though. I guess I’ll just have to add more shelves over there!

Nine days to Becoming Magic: What do I know about #metoo?

It’s a fair question. I’m happily married to a wonderful man. I’ve never been sexually assaulted. Not by a significant other, a trusted family member, a stranger, a friend. I know people who have, though. Several.

Think about that for a minute. I know several people (I could name about six) who have been a victim of a violent crime. If I know 600 people (and that’s generous because I’m practically a hermit) and I could name six who have told me what happened to them (and it varies all along the spectrum of sexual assault from date rape to outright attack), then one out of a hundred people I know have suffered from this crime. If you count the number of women who have been sexually harassed or touched inappropriately against their will, that number skyrockets. It’s probably more like one in five.

That’s where #metoo gets its power. The sheer number of women who have suffered from this crime is overwhelming. And the rest of us? We live in fear of it. That’s me. When my mother sent me off to college it was after a strict talking to about what could happen. I already knew of course. Even in my small town, bad things happened. A teenage girl my older brother knew was raped and killed when I was a child. During my sophomore year in college, a woman was raped and killed about a block away from my apartment.

Now I’m a middle age woman and I’m still aware of how men look at me. Over the years I’ve read more and more about sexual assaults and I know better than ever what men can do to a woman. I have had moments when I’ve been certain I was in danger, when I would reach for my keys and line them up between my knuckles like claws (a move I was taught in a self-defense course), when I would go into the nearest lighted building because I thought maybe someone was following me.

And now I have a daughter.

#Metoo isn’t just about having survived an attack. It’s about women banding together to prevent those attacks from happening. It’s about creating a world where our daughters don’t have to live in fear and wear their keys like weapons. It’s about taking charge of our lives and our happiness. And that’s what Becoming Magic is about. As a romance writer, I can’t do much to change the world, but I can refuse to put the dangerous fantasies in my books. I’m changing. I hope my genre will change, too.

She looked around, spotting Connor almost immediately. She took a half step toward him and froze, stumbling a little, her eyes on the dark-haired man at the next table. He was the large, powerful type you got used to seeing in Hollywood. The kind who worked out at a gym first thing in the morning and then again at night. He was good-looking in a slick, well-kept way. Nothing about this man was an accident.

And nothing about his appearance should make her want to find the nearest potted plant and puke in it, but that was exactly how she felt, nonetheless. She felt hot and cold in quick fluctuations. She swallowed hard against the bile that rose in her throat and wheeled around, knocking into a waiter with a tray full of glasses as she did, sending them flying with a crystalline clatter.

The icy water erased the need to throw up, but not the need to flee. She wanted to look over her shoulder, to see if Connor had seen, but nothing mattered except getting away now. The world whirled and refocused on a narrow aisle leading her away and she followed.

Behind the times? Catch up on Synchronicity now!

It occurred to me that many of you may not have had a chance to read Book One of the Synchronicity series yet, so here’s your opportunity. Check out the Amazon Kindle book giveaway here: Out of Time Giveaway.

Giveaways and an excerpt

I’m expanding my probably ill-conceived time limit for comments. If you comment any time today or tomorrow on one of today’s posts and I still have coupon codes to give out, you’re eligible. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from Time Being to convince you to read it:

Lost in thought, Kaelyn almost missed the first whispers. The branches of the bushes nearest her were already waving in a nonexistent breeze when she noticed them. She faced them, unafraid and head held high. Everything became very quiet. She raised her chin and spoke. “I am Kaelyn, Queen of the Meti. I am looking for a kinsman. His name is Hunter Drake.”

The whispers started again, grew louder, and Kaelyn waited, knowing there was still a possibility that she would feel the telltale prick of the Little People’s barb in her neck, the spread of their poison through her system. Tamsin would remove the barb if it happened, but it wouldn’t be in time to stop her from experiencing some of its torture. What would they make her see this time? Last time it had been forgetting her father’s death, fighting to return to him. And each time she’d remembered had brought with it a rush of loneliness and fear.

This time would they bring back her baby? Maybe make her feel what it would have been like to hold it in her arms, to hear its cry, her body answering a call she’d never experienced before? Would she be able to return from that anguish? Jack had helped her back the last time, but even he might not be able to bring her back from the new torture she imagined. And maybe this time, she wouldn’t want to come back. She closed her eyes, half anticipating, half dreading the sting of the barb in her neck.

Giveaway: What’s your favorite part of a book?

Romantic fantasy has opened up a whole new writing world for me. I love the creative license of world building. You could get a god complex from this! I invented a whole new race of people for the purpose of my Synchronicity story. I’m playing with the rules of physics. And I’ve liberally mixed existing mythology with made up mythology.

It’s fun.

And it’s got me started thinking about what makes a good book. Is it the characters? The backstory? The action? The romance? Great dialogue?

What does it take to make a book worth reading for you? Comment below withing an hour and I’ll send you coupon code good for a free copy of Time Being from Smashwords!